The Centre for Coins, Culture and Religious History has recently acquired a rare silver tetradrachm issued during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius (reigned 14–37 CE). There are only 4 known specimens of this coin and this is the finest of them.
The head of Tiberius is on the obverse. On the reverse, Zeus is seated on a throne holding Nike on his hand. There is no indication on the coin when or where it was minted, but it was most likely somewhere in northern Syria or Cilicia. In The Syro-Phoenician Tetradrachms and their Fractions, published in 2000, Michel and Karin Prieur considered that it was minted in Antioch.
The CCCRH specimen is unusual in that nearly all the Greek letters are visible, and the two monograms on the reverse are clearly shown. On the examples in Prieur (#31), McAlee (#213) and Roman Provincial Coinage (#4110), the monograms were incorrectly identified as M and H. Apart from being very clear in our example, the wording of the Greek inscription on this coin is particularly significant.
The obverse legend reads ΤΙΒΕΡΙΟΥ ΚΑΙΣΑΡΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΥ, while on the reverse we find: ΥΙΟΥ ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΝ. This translates into English as “of Tiberius Caesar, divine Augustus / son of Augusti.” Presumably, the Augusti were Octavian and Livia, but the legend clearly states that Tiberius was divine.
While the imperial cult had developed rapidly in the eastern provinces of the early Roman Empire, such claims to divine status would have been objectionable to the Jewish diaspora communities in Antioch, Tarsus or other major cities in the area. Indeed, the Maccabean Revolt (c. 165 BCE) was triggered at least in part by the harsh enforcement of similar claims by the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
It is unknown whether Jewish objections to this coin of Tiberius influenced Roman policy, but, significantly, the word ΘΕΟΥ (god) is absent from similar coins issued by his immediate successors: Caligula (37–41 CE) and Claudius (41–54 CE). Due to its date during the life of Jesus (who was crucified in 30 CE), its provenance (Antioch) and its explicit attribution of divinity to Tiberius, this coin illustrates the political theology of the Roman Empire promoted on coins such as the so-called “Tribute Penny” shown to Jesus in Mark 12:15 and parallels.